This week we said goodbye to another beloved horror legend. Umberto Lenzi’s may not be a name well-known to all horror fans, but his enormous body of work had a huge impact on the world of horror and cult cinema that still reverberates to this day.
With his tireless enthusiasm for filmmaking, he amassed a staggering 65 directorial credits over his career. Like many Italian genre directors of the 70’s and 80’s, his work ranged from spaghetti westerns and macaroni combat movies to the violent Poliziotteschi films that would go on to inspire directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. As horror fans, we will perhaps remember him best as the man who kicked off the Italian cannibal craze with The Man From Deep River and later penned one of its most notorious entries, Cannibal Ferox.
As tribute to an icon of horror, we present below a small selection of his finest works.
Seven Blood Stained Orchids
A giallo movie from right at the height of the trend, Seven Blood Stained Orchids stands apart in Lenzi’s filmography for its restraint, subtlety and intricate plotting. Here Lenzi deftly manages the task of delivering the tropes and trends that his audience expect while also throwing in enough twists and turns to keep them guessing. The high point of all giallo films are the strange mixture of the beautiful and the macabre, and Lenzi certainly has an eye for that juxtaposition. A scene with a power drill hints at the excesses of the new horror movements that would later follow, and that Lenzi himself would help to shape.
Nightmare City (AKA City of The Living Dead)
While many of the Italian zombie films of the 70’s failed to live up to the promise of their lurid posters, Nightmare City delivered. It’s arguably the first ‘fast zombie’ movie, but speed isn’t the only thing you have to worry about here. Lenzi’s zombies come armed, dangerous and ready to poke holes in you to help them get at that sweet scarlet nectar. The plot is minimal, the acting dreadful and the gore plentiful, but what really strikes us is how Lenzi fights against the constrictions of his budget. He insists on large and impressive set-pieces, giving his zombie outing a sense of scale that its cousins in the subgenre couldn’t match.
Released in 1988, Ghost House is a later entry in Lenzi’s ouvre that proved the director had lost none of his edge. As horror fans, we know that it’s not always about avoiding clichés, but about how you use them, and Ghost House, with its murderous clown dolls, creepy little girls and cast of completely irrational ‘let’s split up and look for clues’ characters uses them to riotous effect.
Eyeball is a giallo film brimming with portent. In almost every frame you can see the seeds of what would become the American slasher craze being sown. A group of comically self-interested middle-class tourists are picked off one-by-one by a killer with a thing for removing people’s left eyes. An interesting outing that feels uncharacteristically lethargic, Eyeball is far from Lenzi’s greatest work. Nevertheless, it has moments of gore-soaked creative flair that earn it a spot on this list.
We could hardly complete any Lenzi list without reference to perhaps his most notorious film. Famously banned in 31 countries (and fiercely proud of it) Cannibal Ferox displays all of the hallmarks of the Italian cannibal craze: misogyny, violence and, perhaps most uncomfortably for modern viewers, real animal cruelty. Viewer beware, this one definitely is not for the faint of heart.